I’ve seen a lot of crazy old Turkish genre movies over the years, ranging from the relatively well-crafted and genuinely enjoyable Kilink and Tarkan films to bananas mindbenders like Turkish Superman and 3 Dev Adam, in which Turkish El Santo and Turkish Captain America team up to take out evil Turkish Spiderman. Hell, I’ve sat through the entire Onar Films back catalog put out by Bill Barounis back in the day, and screened unsubtitled bootlegs with live translations from very patient friend-of-CSB Mehmet. So when I say Death Warrior (screened last night at the new Brooklyn Alamo) is the most incoherently gonzo Turkish movie I’ve seen yet, I know of what I speak.
Death Warrior is essentially a super low budget American Ninja movie made by drunken lunatics who stayed out too late watching Enter the Dragon and Evil Dead. Cuneyt Arkin (of The Man Who Saves the World aka Turkish Star Wars fame) stars as “a Turkish Policeman” – he has a name but more often introduces himself thusly – sent to an indeterminate seemingly-European country (Italy?) in order to help with a ninja problem. That’s right, many years before Europe started freaking out about economic migrants and refugees from Syria, there was a major crime problem caused by a surfeit of itinerant ninja, dirtbiking around the countryside, kamikaze car-bombing the police, hiding in pools of bloody water, and throwing playing cards at people. Of course, the only way to deal with this problem was to bring in stolid badass Cuneyt Arkin, the Charles Bronson of Turkey, to karate chop these rogue ninja into submission.
So far, so good, noting unusual about any of that. But what really takes the film to a special level is the editing. Watching Death Warrior, I couldn’t help but imagine that the film was cut by a hatchet-wielding madman who broke out of a local asylum and held the production team hostage. The scene-to-scene storytelling is extremely hard to follow, and reliant on splicing together footage of ninja training camps, Cuneyt Arkin kicking butt, and footage from classics like Goldfinger. There are even scenes with Arkin that seem to be taken from a much older movie, as he looks about 15 years younger. Don’t get me wrong, though, this is no Godfrey Ho cut-and-paste job. There is a real story and this is a real film, it’s just that the filmmakers have only the most rudimentary notion of how to tell it and filled in some of the blanks with whatever was handy.
The sound design is similarly bonkers. Death Warrior is heavily reliant on stolen musical cues from films like Psycho, but more striking is the foley work. Every footstep resonates like a slap, and every punch is like a gunshot mixed with odd squelching sounds, while most fights are overdubbed with faux Bruce Lee yowls. And that’s not even getting into the hilariously mangled subtitles, which provide their own form of entertainment.
Of course, I’m ignoring some of the highlights of the film – the action scenes. There are naturally plenty of car and motorcycle stunts, often performed using toys against model backdrops. But mostly it’s all about the kung fu and wrestling. Now Cuneyt Arkin may not be the fastest, most limber guy in the world, but he is a legitimate badass. Nevertheless, most of the fights are done Dolemite-style, undercranking the footage to create the appearance of lightning speed. But since Arkin can really fight, and the fights here are not played for laughs, that results in tons of extremely speedy roundhouse kicks, kind of like watching Chuck Norris on fast forward. All culminating in the insanely entertaining final fight against the ninja boss (which can be found on Youtube here – you didn’t hear it from me).
There’s no question that this film is garbage, but it is most definitely incredibly fun garbage. Any time things get slow, there’s an explosion, an assassination, or a lady turning into a frog. And clocking in at a brisk 70 minutes, it never overstays its welcome.
2 1/2 out of 4 stars (Good). Though by any reasonable logic, this should be a zero star film. Thanks to Annie Choi of Bleeding Skull and the Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse for hosting this incredibly fun curiosity.